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University of Montana Campus

University Hall on the campus of the University of Montana in Missoula.

The fallout from a criminal charge that a fraternity member raped a sorority member raises questions about oversight of the Greek system at the University of Montana.

Last school year, a UM student reported a rape to police, and in July, the Missoula County Attorney's Office charged the man with sexual intercourse without consent. The case is pending in Missoula County District Court. The Missoulian typically does not name rape victims and is identifying the student as Jane Doe. 

Doe also reported the assault and concerns about rape culture to her sorority president and a series of officials at the university. She said faculty members and the Student Advocacy Resource Center (SARC) supported her, but she does not believe the troubling issues she raised up the chain at UM have led to appropriate action.

Separate reports, including a grievance committee's decision in a related Title IX investigation, bolster Doe's concerns that the permissive and insular culture within some — albeit not all — fraternities and sororities could pose a risk to student safety at UM.

Earlier this school year, Doe informed UM President Seth Bodnar she had learned of six additional victims of sexual assault by the same fraternity. The UM Police Department confirmed the campus had received a separate report of multiple possible victims connected to the same chapter, but could not substantiate them.

In a letter to Bodnar, Doe shared her experience with the Greek community and called into question the ability of female students to succeed at UM. She expressed frustration as a victim. "Each office I go to, I am met with, 'Well, that is not my responsibility.'"

"Today, I count my blessings for the criminal justice system but feel that I have been re-victimized by the university in unimaginable ways," Doe said in the letter.

Last April, Doe said she met Bodnar at a vigil for survivors, and told him his presence at the event initially strengthened her hope as a UM student. As events unfolded in the aftermath of her own rape report, though, Doe questioned UM's willingness to hold sororities and fraternities accountable.

"Rape culture is real, and it exists on your campus," she said in the letter to the president.

UM officials declined to discuss Doe's case, citing confidentiality, but noted the campus does "significant work to address sorority and fraternity culture." Bodnar said UM investigates all reports, and he and other campus officials stressed that all students are subject to the Student Conduct Code.  

Doe herself praised members from a couple of Greek chapters for supporting her after she reported the rape. She noted it was a fraternity member who first directed her to SARC for help. Nonetheless, she called for change.

***

Doe pursued the Title IX investigation after her sorority terminated her membership.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 protects female students from discrimination in access to education. The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights requires campuses that receive federal money to respond to sexual harassment — including rape — that is serious enough to interfere with a student's education.

Doe provided the Missoulian the report from the investigation. She alleged her sorority president retaliated against her, triggering the process that led to her removal because Doe refused to stay quiet about her sexual assault and intended to report problems with the Greek system to the university.

But the Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action (EOAA) director found inadequate evidence to support retaliation.

Doe had been accused by her sorority of using "racially insensitive language" and the sorority's judiciary board voted to request her termination for "conduct unbecoming a member."

The EOAA found the timing of the allegation of racist language suspect, but the report noted it wasn't the first time Doe had faced such accusations although it did not provide specifics about current or past complaints. In an interview, Doe admitted she had used racially insensitive language. For example, she said she referred to Ebonics in response to another student's exaggerated pronunciation. 

Although the EOAA did not find retaliation, the report recommended the sorority review its own policies and practices.

"The goal of this review,'' the EOAA report said, "would be to ensure that those policies and practices proactively address communication and confidentiality, victim blaming and rape culture, equity and uncertainty of processes, promotion of the idea that each sorority or fraternity chapter can address all concerns on their own without university resources, and social media use."

The report also recommended the Fraternity and Sorority Involvement director consider how such a review "can benefit the entire Greek system." 

Doe appealed and the grievance committee that reviewed the EOAA report affirmed the lack of sufficient evidence to support retaliation. However, the committee underscored numerous concerns raised in the investigation. Like Doe, it called for action from the university.

"The committee is concerned that the combination of the EO's finding of sorority behavior against the complainant, the conflict between the policies and procedures of the sorority and the university, and the sorority's opaque policies and procedures make it difficult to fully investigate possible policy violations," said the committee in its final decision.

"The lack of transparency of the (sorority's) J-Board (judiciary board) process is particularly troubling."

In its October 2018 decision, the committee emphasized a finding that this sorority, "like all in the Greek system, has its own processes, procedures and practices that are outside the control of the University." The committee called on the EO to initiate its own investigation into the sorority, not limited to Doe's allegations.

"The committee believes that the university can, and should, initiate its own investigation when evidence of concerns arise," the committee said.

***

UM did not provide evidence it had taken action in response to the grievance committee's call for an investigation. 

"People come forward to ask for help, or agree to participate in investigations expecting a degree of confidentiality, and it is important we do not chill reporting or participation," said Jessica Weltman, EOAA director, in an email.

Police Chief Marty Ludemann confirmed the campus learned from city police about the possibility of additional victims of sexual assault in connection with the same fraternity, Kappa Sigma. He said SARC confidentially reached out last winter to individuals, but no one wanted to participate in a private discussion.

"To this point, we can't prove or disprove anything took place," Ludemann said.

Kappa Sigma did not respond to voicemails. Findings in the investigation report note the fraternity "removed the member who had assaulted" Doe after the sorority president asked how the fraternity would respond to the attack.

Weltman would not say whether UM conducted its own inquiry into the fraternity.

Adrianne Donald, head of the University Center and supervisor of Fraternity and Sorority Involvement, named two fraternities that were sanctioned at UM in recent years, but Kappa Sigma was not one.

UM has a "mutual agreement" with the Greek system, and it acknowledges both the private nature of the organizations and the right of UM to enforce reasonable rules. 

Although sororities and fraternities are recognized by the campus, Chief Ludemann said properties that are not owned by UM, such as houses owned by Greek chapters or affiliates, are not in the jurisdiction of campus police. "The Greek system is a wonderful system, but it is independent," Ludemann said.

The chief said UM was "struggling a little bit" with supervision of the Greek system, but he said he believes UC Director Donald and the Fraternity and Sorority Involvement director are addressing the matter.

Donald noted the Greek system is complex. For instance, she said Phi Delta Theta is a nationally dry fraternity. A couple of chapters, including Kappa Sigma, don't own their own houses and simply have members renting together, so she said UM can't hold them to house rules.

In 2013, UM reached an agreement with the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education to address and prevent sexual harassment and assault and remain in compliance with Title IX.

UM officials have since touted the prevention programs they have put into place, and communications director Paula Short noted Weltman attended a meeting in August 2018 with fraternity and sorority chapter presidents to specifically encourage safe and confidential reporting.

President Bodnar noted students in fraternities and sororities receive training above and beyond those outside the Greek system.

"The issue of campus safety is something that has been a focus of mine since I joined (in January 2018). It’s something that I believe the University of Montana has made very good progress on," Bodnar said.

***

But both Doe's experiences and an earlier assessment show the changes UM has discussed making may not have fully filtered into the Greek system.

Last school year, outgoing Fraternity and Sorority Involvement Director Michael Hood provided a report to UM officials noting the need for a culture shift and detailing numerous issues, among them:

  • A reluctance by chapter members to address risk management concerns and attempts to "conceal any incidents" to avoid being excluded from parties.

  • The availability and use of alcohol, including "poor decisions that are related to alcohol consumption."

  • The entitlement of the Greek Task Force, a group of primarily alumni who support Greek life at UM. Task force members believe they should be involved in conduct matters, the report said; "this mentality has created the thought process that any issues should be handled internally by chapters, and never involve the university."

In a written response to Hood's report, Donald said "the document is not a true assessment as it is not quantified by data," but she noted the observations presented "were known and have been and continue to be addressed." Some issues, such as alcohol use, are not specific to Greek life but to "Montana culture," and she said UM "continually" addresses it in numerous ways, including mandated alcohol education.

Doe's experiences reflect some of the observations in the assessment.

When Doe suggested she might take her concerns outside the sorority, she reported being called "unsisterly," and she said she received pushback when she voiced plans to meet with SARC and UM officials. She said chapter adviser Trisha Searcy told her "that's just really concerning that you would go to the university over it. I promise you we're dealing with it in house."

Searcy declined an interview with the Missoulian and said she would "not speak to private conversations." However, she said "our chapter would never pretend to undertake a sexual assault investigation internally, and we would encourage any member to report such an incident to the appropriate authorities."

***

Across the country, universities have placed fraternities and sororities under intense scrutiny and sanctions after serious trouble. A Chronicle of Higher Education story from November 2017 noted the deaths of two fraternity pledges within one month, and it said 11 out of 37 fraternities at Ohio State University came under investigation since the start of the academic year.

In Bozeman, Montana State University has experienced its own problems with the Greek system. MSU Dean of Students Matthew Caires said the university closed Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity a year ago, "a painful decision" given the fraternity's long history on campus. The decision followed a suspension in 2015, improvement in 2016, but a severe case of intoxication and ensuing hospitalization in 2017. He said the problems in 2015 took place not at the main fraternity house but at an apartment off campus with SAE members.

On the same weekend in 2013, he said MSU suspended two fraternities after multiple reports of sexual assaults at two different parties. He said MSU did not wait for investigation results to take action. "We issued interim suspensions immediately."

But he said members of the Greek system elevate the campus, too. They make up 4 percent of the student body, but 50 percent of the student Senate, he said. And freshman to sophomore retention among fraternity and sorority members is 95 percent compared to 77 percent for overall first year retention.

"We see these groups as high risk and high reward," Caires said.

In Missoula, 6.6 percent of undergraduate students belong to the Greek system, or 435 students. The 2018 Fraternity and Sorority Involvement report notes UM chapters donated 9,535 volunteer hours last year and won nine national awards in a variety of categories, including academic excellence.

***

Last school year, Doe skipped meals to avoid the presence of fraternity members in her sorority house and chatter about her situation, she said. She recalled leaving a "sisters' retreat" in tears after being blamed for the assault. She said she periodically slept in her car and did so before her father flew to Missoula to help her move out of the house.

Although Doe said she is frustrated with the lack of action by UM, she lauded faculty who showed care for her education, and she encouraged other survivors to seek support from SARC.

She said sometimes, the system is faulty, and she hopes the decision from the grievance committee will force UM to examine real problems with the Greek community. In the meantime, a group of UM representatives including a faculty member, staff member and student echoed her concerns, and she finds that outcome powerful.

"It finally feels like somebody believes me," Doe said.

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